Peonies And Economics

Our peonies, one of my favourite spring flowers, have just opened up. The peonies in our garden are a connection to one of my grandmothers, my father’s mother. She had a border of peonies at the front of her lawn that bloomed in a riot of crimson every spring. When she passed on, and the house was sold, my aunt saved some of the bushes for her own garden. Years later, my father planted a root from those same peonies in his garden, and even more years later shared the stock with us.

My grandma was a hard-working prairie farm wife whose family benefited from the large vegetable garden she tended right up until the last year of her life. My dad inherited her green thumb, but I did not (although luckily I married someone who had the gardening gene passed down from his grandfather and his mother).  Now that I am turning my attention to preserving much of the food our family eats, and more actively supporting my husband as he grows that food, I feel a connection to those women down through the ages who, out of necessity, have grown and preserved food so that their families will be fed throughout the year. Although I don’t have access my grandmother’s skill and wisdom, and didn’t appreciate it when she was still around, I feel sure she would be pleased.

While I’m on the topic of “women’s” work, which has been, and continues to be, undervalued in our economy, I want to share my discovery of Marilyn Waring, author of “If Women Counted: New Feminist Economics”. Waring, a former MP in the New Zealand Parliament, wrote the book in 1988. So my discovery of her is a few decades late, but her work is just as relevant now as it was then as, sadly, our global economic system hasn’t changed.  “Who’s Counting: Marilyn Waring on Sex Lies and Global Economics”, is available for viewing on Netflix. The NFB website says:

“With irony and intelligence Marilyn Waring demystifies the language of economics by defining it as a value system in which all goods and activities are related only to their monetary value and monetary exchange with the result that unpaid work, usually done by women, is unrecognized and activities that may be environmentally and socially hazardous are regarded as productive. She maps out an alternative economic vision based on the idea of time as the one thing we all have to exchange. Shot in Canada, New Zealand, New York City, the Persian Gulf and the Philippines this film is an entertaining primer for anyone who suffers from what Waring calls “economics anxiety.”

Here’s Professor Waring more recently, speaking about the differences between formal and informal work, subsistence and care work and why the majority of women’s labor is invisible to the market economy:


0 thoughts on “Peonies And Economics”

  1. Back in the early to mid-60s I used to fish with my Dad, gillnetting with a rowboat. Curiously, this wasn’t so unusual back then. It was called the mosquito fleet, run by a bunch of small operators all up and down the BC coast. The Feds decided this wasn’t economically “efficient” so they bought out or ended all the small licences, making low cost, low impact harvesting of salmon impossible thereafter. My father and I lived in a squatter’s cabin on $20 a month (about 2/3rds of the rent of a single occupancy room in those days), plus fish. We didn’t consume enough. That’s economic devaluation. Their clever plan eventually destroyed the fishery altogether, but by the mad logic of the capitalist ideologues, it was the least harmful and the most local of the players who got trimmed first.

    • Well, here we are at a critical time in human history – are we going to wake up in time, and learn from our mistakes and change our mad ways, or carry on until we’ve ensured MAD (mutually assured destruction)? These are interesting times, Theo.

  2. Great video. I have been thinking about the issues she brings up for awhile now. Will check out the documentary on Netflix. Thanks for the terrific post.

  3. She is amazing – but what also comes through in Who’s Counting is that a lot of what she did, was just to show up and respond to what life offered. I mean, running for office at 22 even though her real goal was to be a classical musician! And that’s all we can each do – show up, speak up, question the status quo, no matter how oppressive or immovable the system seems (and have some fun and love our family and our neighbours – however you interpret that – along the way). If you’re doing that, whatever the manifestation in your own life, you are already a role model for others!

  4. Professor Waring touches briefly in this clip on the ‘invisible economy’ — services provided by nature, which we don’t value — monetarily — at all.

    Dr. Pavan Sukhdev, Head of UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative, says that the invisible economy is at least as large as the one we measure with this arbitrary thing called ‘Gross National Product’, upon which Those Who Lead Us — mostly economics ‘experts’ — expend so much effort.

    Dr Sukhdev spoke convincingly, and fascinatingly, at TED on this theme a short while ago, too: when was the last time you were invoiced by a bee?

    • Wonderful links, p, thanks (although I’m just heading out the door to attend a weekend family celebration, I will come back to them).

      It is becoming more and more evident that what passes for mainstream economics in our society is woefully inadequate to the job, and it is exciting to hear more and more people saying that the “economics emperor” has no clothes.

      • Back in 1966 I wrote an essay for grade 10 social studies asserting that capitalism was fundamentally flawed because it requires constant growth in a finite system. My social studies teacher was so struck by it she passed my essay around to other social studies teachers.

        I have two points. One, the argument I made is so obvious that even a high school student can figure it out on their own. Two, it is truly sobering to see my high school essay coming true in my own lifetime.


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